‘Champions of Access and Success’ Convene at Bowdoin
High school counselors, college admissions staff, deans, financial aid advisors and many others who help talented low-income students gain admission into colleges or universities, and help them to thrive there, gathered at Bowdoin this week to share their knowledge and make connections.
The CASCO conference, which stands for Collaborative for Access & Successful College Outcomes, is the outcome of a vision by two Bowdoin administrators: Dean of Students Janet Lohmann and Dean of Admissions and Student Aid Whitney Soule. Four years ago, they set about creating this unique networking and learning opportunity for professionals in their field.
This year, about 85 people from all over the country attended the three-day event. A $25,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation helped those who work for high schools and nonprofits to attend.
The conference is unusual because while everyone in attendance is working toward the same end — to help underrepresented students obtain a college degree — they do so within their own nonprofit community-based organization, college, or school, and so don’t often get a chance to engage in meaningful, detailed discussions with others in their area. Colleagues who focus on the pre-college process and obtaining access to higher education for promising high school students got to trade ideas with people who support those same students once they’re at university or college.
“The goal of the conference was to have conversations, and we achieved that,” Lohmann said. “From two days of talking, people have take-aways in terms of best practices or examples they can use in their organizations, colleges, or schools to achieve access and success for their students.”
The conference covered a spectrum of challenges that first-generation, low-income students face both before and during college. Conference attendees broke into small sessions throughout the two days to discuss topics such as our current political climate, mental health, and how colleges can appeal to rural students. Financial aid was a big focus — not just how to help students afford tuition, but also how to enable them to take advantage of all the opportunities available to them on campuses. Conference attendees also looked at how to help families better understand the financial aid process, read financial aid reward letters, and make decisions on costs and work study.
High school, college, and college-preparatory advisors also spoke frequently about how to help students who might feel alienated and alone when they first arrive at campuses like Bowdoin gain a sense that they are part of the community.
The conference wrapped up with a session on next steps. “We are excited to ensure the connections made here continue,” Bowdoin Associate Dean of Admissions Justin Fahey said. He helped organize the conference. “We want everyone to feel connected to the folks they met here and continue the conversations—and see this as a networking opportunity with kids in mind. How can we continue to positively impact the lives of our students?”
The keynote speaker for the CASCO conference was Angel Pérez, who is vice president of enrollment and student success at Trinity College in Connecticut. He spoke about how higher education in the United States will have to adapt to projected demographic shifts in high school graduates. The majority of U.S. students will become students of color sometime mid-century, and fewer of them will be able to easily afford college or university tuition.
Pérez holds a B.S. from Skidmore College, an M.A. from Columbia University, a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University, and a certification in higher education pedagogy from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University.